A 2019 Canadian survey conducted on behalf of Robert Half, a recruitment agency, revealed that 2 out of 5 employees leave their workplace because of their managers.
A toxic manager ruins the party for everyone and leads to low employee morale and engagement. It comes at a steep cost, too. Productivity and profits nose-dive. Over the long run, if left unchecked, it is a direct threat to the survival and success of the organization.
In fact, according to the 2019 Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace report, low employee engagement costs companies about $500 billion every year in the US alone. This statistic underscores the gravity of the situation and is indicative of the losing battle employers wage against employee disengagement.
Some studies indicate that only about 1 out of 10 employees is engaged in their work across the globe so It is no wonder that almost 90% of employers struggle to maintain and improve employee engagement.
This is why companies are always looking for ways to keep employees motivated so that they could increase engagement levels and thereby drive higher productivity.
Companies deploy multiple tools to rev up employee motivation. One of the tools is the ubiquitous employee engagement survey. It is ostensibly designed to provide early warning indicators of pockets of toxic work environment within the organization and the underlying root causes.
During my lengthy career journey across multiple organizations, I have found that the general consensus among my colleagues is that the employee engagement survey is a waste of time. Some find it particularly annoying because no matter how honest they are in the survey; the organization cherry picks feedback and so miss out on gauging the true pulse of the workforce.
Another likely reason is that the decision makers focus on the aggregate and summary numbers of engagement levels and never dive down into the details to review and understand the rich, contextual underlying employee feedback.
It’s as if once the engagement level meets a certain range or threshold, Management congratulates itself for a job well done and continues labouring in the mistaken belief that the employees are engaged and motivated to be productive. And so, the cycle continues.
This adverse selection mindset creates a blind spot that causes severe havoc as reflected in the painful experience of a former colleague who had worked at one of the Big 5 Canadian banks.
They had a toxic boss who had become increasingly emboldened by the lack of action from senior management over the course of some years despite the team’s consistent negative feedback about this leader.
Each year they expected that senior management will address the issues that they raised in the survey but nothing ever happened.
Needless to say, the work place became a living hell for my former colleague and the rest of the team.
The company eventually took action against the toxic leader but you will be amazed to know what triggered this corrective action.
In frustration, the team members decided as a group to do the exact opposite: they each gave their manager the highest ratings in every category of the survey. They felt that they may as well try to mend fences with their boss that way since the leaders of the company did not really care enough to address the issues they had been raising consistently.
This had the perverse effect of raising alarm bells within the organizations’ senior leadership. The result for this toxic manager was an extremely positive outlier, an abnormality which cast doubt on the veracity of the survey responses.
My former colleague and his team members were summoned to explain why.
They told the senior leaders that it was a team decision to perversely give their boss the best ratings in all categories as a survival strategy. They felt that it was in their own best interest to do so since their manager seemed to be a sacred cow.
Ironically, their manager got fired after the meeting. Yes, I know it’s surreal. A clear case of looking only at headlines and not the news below it.
It doesn’t matter whether Management conducts the survey anonymously or outsources it to a third party who would ostensibly protect your identity. The general belief is that Management still has a way of finding out the identities of respondents. And woe betide you, if you were too honest in your feedback about your direct boss. They always had a way of finding out.
And this happened at yet another of the Big 5 banks. One of my previous bosses told me about the time when the bank sent out emails requesting employees to participate in the survey in which the employees were told that the survey was going to be conducted by a third-party contractor to ensure that the results and identifies of the respondents remained anonymous. Somehow the file sent by the contractor contained clear metadate about the identities of every employee who ad responded to the survey.
Imagine the panic amongst staff who bared their soul in that survey!
While these incidents do not mean that all employee engagement surveys are not taken seriously by Management, it definitely shows that employee distrust makes it an ineffective means of gauging pulse and engagement levels.
It often has the unintended opposite effect because, to employees, it resembles a tone-deaf and ham-fisted approach that invariably ends being a sheer waste of time and reinforces the perception that Management is not really interested in employee feedback.
The question then arises: what can companies do better to improve employee engagement?
An extension of that question is, “What if there is a better way to motivate employees and raise their engagement and productivity levels?”
We will explore the answer to this question in the next article. Stay tuned.